Harrietville fires inquest | Boss sheds tears on witness stand

Craig Hore.

Craig Hore.

A SENIOR firefighter broke down in tears yesterday when asked if anything could have been done to prevent the deaths of Steven Kadar and Katie Peters.

Craig Hore was one of the pair’s bosses on February 13 last year when a 30-metre alpine ash tree fell on the roof of their vehicle.

“I’ve had 18 months to think about it,” Mr Hore said in reply to the question from coroner John Olle.

Mr Hore was unable to say anything for a couple of minutes, prompting Mr Olle to briefly adjourn the inquest in Wodonga.

His tears prompted the dead man’s mother, Jan Kadar, to also start sobbing.

After the break, Mr Hore — who was the divisional commander for the western division of the Harrietville fire — said he was fine to try to answer the question again.

“I’ve had a long time to think about it your honour,” the Parks Victoria senior ranger said.

“There’s nothing I can think of on those days leading up to the incident ... that could change.”

Mr Hore said if he “had a time machine” then the decision to move out from the Pheasants Creek Track might have been made a couple of minutes earlier.

Miss Peters, 19, and Mr Kadar, 34, were in a firefighting utility known as a slip-on — she was driving — when the tree fell on their vehicle just after 3.30pm, before then bouncing onto the track.

The fire started after a lightning strike on January 21 and eventually burnt 37,000 hectares over 55 days.

Mr Hore was questioned at length as to whether any weather warnings were provided and why firefighters were still on the fireground as a storm approached.

There were reports at about 2.20pm of lightning strikes at Falls Creek, as well as near Mount Buller and in the Mitta State Forest.

Mr Hore told Mr Olle these areas were “quite remote” from their location on the track near Harrietville.

“Falls Creek’s a couple of valleys away,” he said.

Mr Hore said a briefing had revealed the already light winds would shift direction when the weather change came through.

“The facts we were given were of 10km/h winds from the north-west shifting to the south-east,” he said.

“That wouldn’t be a concern for us.”

Mr Hore said it was a shared approach to keep abreast of weather changes “all the time”, and the people often best-placed to make an assessment were “the people on the ground”.

An increase in wind speed to about 20km/h prompted the evacuation of crews.

Mr Olle asked Mr Hore how much time had passed between the decision to withdraw and the incident.

“It would have been in the order of two minutes, your honour,” he said.

Crews were carrying out backburning for the third day when the firefighters died.

The inquest is expected to hear final witnesses in Wod- onga today before being adjou-rned part-heard to a later date in Melbourne.

Victorian Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley will be the last witness to give evidence.